May 2003

2003 05 27
More on Africa

Don’t miss an excellent piece in the NYTimes today by N. Kristoff. After months, years, of almost total silence, there may be a faint stirring of interest in one of the most miserable places on the planet: Central Africa.

Alone the same lines, Lewis MacKenzie in the National Post blasts the failure of the UN to deal at all with the carnage in Central Africa:

Like it or not, the UN is no longer capable of finding adequate resources, read countries, willing to sacrifice their sons and daughters in uniform for someone else’s human rights, unless the conflict threatens world peace and security or is in America’s self-interest to get involved.

Apply that criteria to the situation in the Congo and you get little interest and no action writ large. Africa, in general, and the complicated situation in the Congo don’t register on the “must-do” list of the Security Council. Observers wax eloquent on how the Security Council would have acted to stop the potential genocide in Rwanda in 1993 if only they had known of Canadian General Roméo Dallaire’s forecast of genocide and his plea for additional soldiers to try and thwart it. Balls! The Permanent Five veto-holding members of the Security Council knew a hell of a lot more about what was going on in Rwanda and what was being planned by the Hutus than General Dallaire, who had virtually zero intelligence-gathering capability in his tiny command. They chose to do nothing because they had no national self-interests in Rwanda.

MacKenzie’s conclusion is on less firm ground, I think. MacKenzie argues that peacekeeping is obsolete because the Security Council is dependent on credible armies and significant international consensus:

The Congo is a perfect example of a crisis the UN should be able to resolve without the leadership of the United States — by deploying the force necessary to sort out the thugs and goons who currently control the streets and jungles. The fact that the UN is not capable of doing so should be the final piece of evidence to convince even the most optimistic among us that it is incapable of carrying out the role assigned it in 1945 as the primary instrument responsible for international peace and security.

Those numerous Canadian commentators who call for our immediate participation in the Congo as “peacekeepers” display a disturbing ignorance of the profound change that has taken place regarding conflict since the end of the Cold War. Peacekeeping was a key component of our foreign policy for almost 50 years. It was a good run, but the concept is pretty well dead and buried and it’s time for its inventor — us — to admit it. Mercifully, countries rarely go to war these days, but factions within countries are fighting in more than 50 conflicts as you read this. If the UN is to take on stopping the slaughter it needs the participation of professional militaries trained for combat in sufficient numbers to defeat — euphemism for kill in most cases — the perpetrators of these war crimes. The concept of a neutral and impartial role for the UN in such conflicts is dangerous wishful thinking, and wrong. Like it or not, this fact, based on compelling evidence accumulated over the past decade, should be serious food for thought as the federal government undertakes the long-overdue foreign and defence policy review as promised by prime ministerial contenders Paul Martin and John Manley.

It’s not clear to me what MacKenzie is proposing as an alternative to the UN here. Unilateral actions or actions undertaken without international backing? Won’t all the same problems of cycnicism and inaction attach to these actions, compounded by fresh problems that arise from a lack of international consensus? MacKenzie is obviously right that the current international system is a failure. But what does he propose in its place? Or is nothing supposed to take its place?

I’m often reminded of the crack that “never again” means “never again will the world stand by and let Germans persecute Jews in the 1940s”. We have to do something. Don’t we?

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2003 05 22
The Kurds Again

The Kurds are starting to get a taste of their rewards for helping the U.S. Here are the first two grafs in a piece in the times today:

The two main Kurdish political parties sharply criticized an American proposal today for a new United Nations resolution on Iraq, saying it would take away $4 billion that rightfully belongs to the Kurds.

In a letter to L. Paul Bremer III, the chief allied administrator in Iraq, two leaders, Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, expressed outrage over a plan to redistribute unspent money from the oil-for-food program.

This was inevitable, and it will only get worse. The U.S. will be increasingly pulled between the imperative to keep its promises to the Kurds and the imperative to rebuild Iraq quickly and inexpensively. Since Kurdish resources will be very helpful in the latter project, it’s hard to see the Kurds not getting shafted big time.

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2003 05 21

The first attempts to assess the level of civilian casualties in the recent war are just trickling in. Click here for a piece in the Christian Science Monitor. This is only the opening round of what will no doubt be a long debate about the level of casualties . . . stay tuned.

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2003 05 21
A Bush Trip to the Mideast?

The NYTimes says this morning that Bush is weighing a trip to the mideast. I would be very surprised if this came to pass. It seems to me that Bush is unlikely to intervene in such a drammatic way without reasonable chances of success, and even Bush can see that the chances of success are not good now. Add to that the fact that Bush’s personal intervention is much less likely to be effective since he’s such a moron. And the fact that his plan seems to require to the Palestinians to risk civil war enforcing the occupation with no plausible prospects of anything in return . . .

One thing that seems striking about the Bush admin in the last few weeks is that they seem genuinely surprised by the wave of suicide bombings as talks between the PA and Sharon neared. Now, they can’t have been that surprised – given recent history it seemed all but inevitable. But now they don’t seem to know what to do.

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2003 05 21
Two Steps Back in Morocco

So much for freedom of the press in Morocco. Tell me, if the U.S. can’t – won’t – pressure the government of Morocco (or Egypt, which gets 2 billion a year) out of this sort of nonsense, how is it supposed to move Iraq towards a healthy, functioning democracy?

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2003 05 15
Marshall on Wolfowitz

Josh Marshall takes a look at Wolfowitz’s offensive comments about Turkey last week. Check it out.

One complaint about the piece, though. Marhsall recycles the stupid isn’t-it-counter-intuitive! idea that Turkey’s military has been a force for democracy in Turkey:

Over the decades, the military played a pivotal role in keeping Turkey united, secular, pro-Western, and —- contradictory as it may seem —- democratic.

I confess it does seem contradictory to me. I think this cold war canard got off the ground partly because the West so often confused secularism with progress (it certainly is, in my opinion, all other things being equal – the problem is that other things are often not equal). What makes this position so absurd is the role that Turkey’s military played in persecuting so many of its own citizens for so long. We shouldn’t forget that the Turkish military contributed significantly to the mess in South Eastern Turkey.

Surely we should refuse to call a country a democracy when a large minority of its citizens gets shafted so thoroughly. And surely we should refuse to credit an institution within a country with safeguarding democracy when it bears primary responsibility for the mess.

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2003 05 14
Chaos in Central Africa

What follows is a piece from the U.N. News Service about the chaos currently gripping central Africa. I’m not sure why I’m posting it – perhaps I’m protesting the fact that no one else seems to give a shit. Is there a moral to be drawn from it? Three things come to mind:

a) Much of this chaos is a result of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The genocide played a major role in destabalizing the entire region. The roots of the current conflict are complex, of course, and I don’t want to oversimplify things. Still, every time I read about the millions who have perished in the fighting over the last few years, I am reinforced in my belief that never in history did the West have a chance to save more lives with fewer resources than 1994. If the West had acted, it could very probably have taken the edge off the worst. That’s not to say that central Africa would be a nice place now, but chances are it wouldn’t be hell on earth.

b) Pleas for help with the conflict have been issuing from the UN for a few weeks now. As far as I can tell, they’ve been met with nearly complete silence. I suppose I can understand the reluctance to intervene in a complex and perhaps intractable conflict. Still, would it hurt to report the conflict? There’s virtually nothing in the papers about this. Surely the sheer scale of human suffering warrants more mention than it’s now getting.

c) Western companies have profitted from this chaos. Central Africa is rich in resources, and the resources have played an important role in prolonging the conflict. Conflict diamonds are only the start of a long sordid tale of profit from misery. The current outrage, especially prevalent among conservatives, at French companies who did business with the former Iraqi regime would be far more convincing if the same group of outraged critics could bring themselves to condemn the Western companies currently doing business in central Africa.

New York, May 14 2003 5:00PM
As heavy fighting continues to rage in the town of Bunia in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a top United Nations relief official today voiced fear of a looming humanitarian disaster in the area and warned of ethnic tensions that conjured up “shades of Rwanda in 1994.”

The situation on the ground in Bunia continues to be “extremely difficult and volatile,” with intense fighting going on between ethnic Hema and Lendu militias in the town itself, as well as around the airport, according to a UN spokesman. The local headquarters of the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) is wedged in the area between the two groups.

Carolyn McAskie, the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, told a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York that the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation and the ethnic tensions in Bunia conjured up “shades of Rwanda in 1994,” where men, women and children rose up and attacked their neighbours.

Whole villages in and around Bunia were slaughtering each other – a deeply disturbing aspect of the hostilities that Ms. McAskie feared was “Rwanda-like,” although “nothing could match the scale of Rwanda.” Still, there had been hundreds of casualties “that we know of” in the last few weeks or so, she added, stressing that the humanitarian situation was “extremely dangerous, even desperate; the focus was on very basic life-saving interventions.”

The dire security situation – where a “rather nasty cocktail” of rebel groups and dissatisfaction with local authorities was playing on ethnic hatreds – meant that relief agencies were “down to the minimum in terms of providing the most basic human needs” such as plastic sheeting for shelter and high-protein biscuits.

Ms. McAskie noted there were just eight humanitarian personnel on the ground right now – including a surgeon, nutrition specialist, and water and sanitation expert -doing what they could. Despite the evacuations, she and others, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), were trying to keep a core group in place. Other teams and supplies were on standby, but needed a more secure environment in which to operate. Supplies were being moved up from Goma, but incoming flights tended to be sporadic. The first priority was to find a way to stop the fighting.

Asked how large a force would be needed to suppress the fighting, Ms. McAskie said Ugandan troops had been “keeping a lid on it”. They had anywhere from 7,000 to 9,000 troops. “We have 800 personnel now, and estimates of what was needed were some three times that,” she said.

Joining Ms. McAskie at the briefing was Margaret Carey of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. She said that the new troops would have to be able to use force. The Mission was a peacekeeping operation and, therefore, lightly armed. It was basically comprised of guard units. What was needed now was the rapid deployment of well-equipped, well-trained troops, under a mandate that permitted the use of force. In terms of the total numbers needed, she thought the key was enforcement power and capacity.

Meanwhile, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said a shell landed in the UN Mission’s compound, killing one person and wounding 13 others. “I can now confirm the reports on the wires yesterday that one woman was killed yesterday while inside the UN Mission’s Bunia headquarters” he said, adding that a civilian was in fact killed by a stray bullet while she was in the compound, and one mortar shell also landed in the compound.

MONUC has also reported that two UN military observers have been missing since 11:00 a.m. local time Tuesday from Mongbwalu, five kilometres north of Bunia. “All attempts are being made to locate them,” Mr. Eckhard said.

There has also been an increase in the number of internally displaced persons seeking shelter at the Mission’s Bunia headquarters, and a makeshift medical clinic has been organized there to deal with the situation.

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2003 05 12
A little tidbit from the past

I end up reading a lot of commentary about the Bush admin, much of it critical. There are a lot of people watching very closely, and they’re great at picking up inconsistencies, great and small, and making sure that people hear about them. But there are a few things that fly under people’s radars. Here’s one that is a few months late. I kept meaning to put it up but never got around to it. First, read part of the transcript of a policy address by Paul Wolfowitz at the Council for Foreign Relations:

Q: Michael Gordon, New York Times. Paul, I’d like to just follow up on the first question. The Bush administration has asserted not only that Iraq has had weapons of mass destruction, but that it has resumed production of biological and chemical weapons. And President Bush, in his appearance before the General Assembly, cited Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes as evidence that Iraq was trying to rejuvenate its nuclear weapons program.

But not all of these claims have been accepted by the U.N. inspectors that you cite. For example, just two weeks ago, the IAEA said that it had looked into the matter of the aluminum tubes and determined, on the evidence so far, that it thought they were for a conventional rocket program. And the IAEA also said that the uranium — attempts to purchase uranium that you cited in your speech today — that it had received no information from any governments that would allow it to determine the validity of this assertion as to when Iraq tried to purchase uranium, whether it was recent or long ago, as the Iraqis assert.

Given that we’re talking about matters of war and peace, does the administration plan to make a further report and provide intelligence information to address these concerns stated by the IAEA in its public report, and to buttress its claims that Iraq has resumed the production of weapons of mass destruction? And if not, is this because of targeting concerns, sources and methods, or do you simply not have reliable information that would stand up in a public forum on this?

Wolfowitz: I think the short answer, Michael, really is there is a lot of evidence; as the evidence accumulates, our ability to talk about it undoubtedly will grow. But we don’t have a lot of time; time is running out, and I repeat: What has clearly not happened is any change of attitude by the Iraqi regime.

Yeah, it’s possible that we have been misinformed on some things. The only way to verify that you’ve been misinformed is with the kind of openness of the South Africans or the Ukrainians or the Kazakhs demonstrated. If you can go into places and talk freely to people and look at all the records, you might be convinced. But in a country that has a history of constructing Potemkin villages, there’s absolutely no way to know whether what the inspectors were shown were indeed those aluminum tubes that we’re concerned about or whether it was a whole facade constructed to substantiate a certain story.

Now, Wolfowistz was probably the biggest backer of the aluminum tubes theory in the admin. And here it seems pretty clear that he’s given up on it. He’s certain, of course, that other evidence will be found. But – and this is very important – he’s basically admitting that this piece of evidence won’t cut it. By the way, the policy briefing took place on Jan. 23rd, 2003. Keep your eye on the date.

Now here is Bush fils, in his State of the Union address:

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.

This speech was “delivered” on Jan 28th, 2003. In other words, one of the most drammatic pieces of evidence cited in Bush’s speech had been disowned by the most hawkish member of his own administration just five days before he gave the speech. Now, that’s incomptence.

As far as I know, no one picked this up.

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2003 05 10
Hypocrisy on Nuclear Weapons

Preventative war on Iraq was wrong, but suppose the grave threat posed by nuclear weapons had been enough to justify it. Even so, the U.S. surely can’t invoke the that threat to justify a preventative war without taking plausible steps to deal responsibly with its own WMD. I’m not suggesting that the U.S. disarm, or that “rogue” states ought to be treated the same way as the U.S. Still, scotching talks on a biological weapons treaty last year, the aggressive nuclear posture review completed in the fall, the talk of nuclear bunker busters – all this adds up to genuine hypocrisy.

And now, more ominous signs from the Senate.

None of this is going to help. You can’t talk preventative war and at the same time complain that people don’t really believe that you’re going to use your nukes.

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2003 05 09
Letter to Joe Clark

A break from American news to print a letter I’ve just written to Joe Clark, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in Canada. Clark, who has a decent record on the issue of homosexuality, is dealing with criticism over his deputy’s recent remarks about homosexual marriage, etc.. Here is my letter:

Mr. Clark,

I am a Canadian graduate student living in the United States. I would like to express my outrage at Elsie Wayne’s recent comments about homosexuality.

I am aware that you have taken a sensible position on this issue in the past, but I am also disturbed by your failure to repudiate Wayne more emphatically. According to the National Post, you said:

“Elsie has extreme views on that issue. She does not speak for me. She doesn’t speak for the party. She is free to express her views.”

This is a good start, but it falls well short of an appropriate response. You’re perfectly right to say that Wayne is free to express her views. But you, as leader of the party, are free to kick Wayne out of it, or demote her within it.

I have voted in the past for the PC party, but I will not consider doing so again unless I have a clear reassurance that the party will not tolerate this kind of bigotry.

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2003 05 08
Wolfowitz shoots his mouth off

According to the CBC, Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary, recently set off a furor in Turkey by making critical remarks about the country’s leadership. Here’s a sample:

“… Let’s have a Turkey that steps up and says, ‘We made a mistake, we should have known how bad things were in Iraq, but we know now. Let’s figure out how we can be as helpful as possible to the Americans.'”

Now, I’m not normally inclined to be sympathetic to Turkey. Its ruthless campaign against its minority populations (not just the Kurds) usually gets in the way of that. But Wolfowitz’s comments are breathtakingly obnoxious. Turkey is a sovereign country which got badly burned after the last Gulf War. It has a population that was deeply hostile to the war. And its leaders took real risks to try to accomodate the U.S. in spite of all that. It’s hardly surprising that Turkey’s leaders weren’t enthusiastic about the U.S. admin’s grand plan to reshape the Middle East with a “war of choice” (read: “unnecessary war”)

So Wolfowitz’s remarks are unfair, especially in light of all the stupid diplomatic blunders that the U.S. made in the course of negotiations. (Wolfowitz was responsible for many of these.) But even if the remarks had been fair, they would still have been diplomatically inept. Every time some admin official shoots of his mouth it puts increased pressure on foreign leaders to stand up to them, if only to demonstrate to their domestic constituencies that they’re not pushovers.

Defense shouldn’t do diplomacy. It’s not just that there’s already a Secretary of State. The fact is that they just suck at it.

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